Legislation Would Confront Workplace Bullying

As a result of new research on the incidence of bullying in schools, the Ontario English Catholic Teachers’ Association (OECTA) and Ontario Secondary School Teachers’ Federation (OSSTF) are calling on government and school boards to work with them to confront workplace bullying.

Phase 2 of the Bullying in the Workplace study commissioned by OECTA, OSSTF and the Elementary Teachers’ Federation of Ontario (ETFO), shows that 30 per cent of teachers and education workers have been bullied by a parent or guardian, 24 per cent have been bullied by a superior, while 15 per cent have been bullied by a colleague or co-worker. Phase 1 investigated the incidence of bullying by students and was reported on September 26.

OECTA and OSSTF, representing over 84,000 teachers and education workers say that bullying or psychological harassment is not just a school-based phenomenon. Because it can and does happen in any workplace, teachers and education workers say the Ontario Employment Standards’ Act should be amended to mirror the innovative sections 81.18 to 81.20 of Quebec’s Labour Standards’ Act that protects all workers against bullying or psychological harassment.

The Quebec legislation defines psychological harassment as “any vexatious behaviour in the form of repeated and hostile or unwanted conduct, verbal comments, actions or gestures that affect an employee’s dignity or psychological or physical integrity and that results in a harmful work environment for the employee.”

The two education unions also want bullying recognized as a workplace hazard in the Occupational Health and Safety Act.

“Workplace bullying is more prevalent than other destructive behaviours, such as sexual harassment and racial discrimination, that are covered by legislation,” says Rhonda Kimberley-Young, OSSTF president. “Every school board should establish a defined process to deal with complaints about bullying by administrators, colleagues, co-workers or other adults in the schools, including parents.”

OECTA president Donna Marie Kennedy said that the proposals do not come with a high price tag. “We’re not looking for money. We’re looking for buy-in.” She says protection offered by strict workplace anti-bullying regulations would reduce time lost to sick leave or self-defensive paperwork, and would contribute to more productive workplaces, higher staff retention and a lowered risk of legal action.

When asked to describe the worst incident they have experienced, the majority of teachers and education workers who reported that they had been bullied mention verbal abuse. They also complain that they are frequently subjected to repeated and unjustified criticism and trivial fault-finding.

However, bullying by a superior is the most damaging form of harassment, the new research shows. Targets left their jobs at four times the rate of others who were bullied by parents, colleagues or students, the survey found. Thirty-six per cent of those who have been bullied by superiors have not mentioned it to anyone.

James Matsui and Lang Research surveyed 1,217 randomly selected teacher and support staff members who work in Ontario’s publicly funded schools, during a two-week period in the spring of 2005. The total sample has a margin of error plus or minus 2.8 per cent 19 times out of 20.